CAP Glider Operations Pick Up the Tempo

Tupper cockpit KRNP 2016-04-23

I spent Saturday at Owosso (KRNP) doing CAP glider operations. The biggest rodeo I’ve done to date. 38 cadet O-flights and seven C flights, all among three pilots, two gliders, and a single tow plane. I flew nine of the O-flights, seven in the ASK 21 and two in the 2-32. To add complexity, the airport hosted a fly-in lunch that kept the pattern pretty busy from about 1030L to 1400L.

This was a confidence-builder for me. Yeah, I’ve done O-flights, but this was a genuine high-throughput operation trying to get all of the cadets flown in the time available. To preserve my duty day, I got into the cockpit at 1030L and flew on and off until coperations concluded around 1600L

I was looking forward to getting some dual instruction for FOD, but the main tire of the ASK 21 went flat around 1500L and wouldn’t hold air. The ASK 21 is the primary training ship, so that put an end to the instruction for the day.

I was pretty impressed by FOD’s reaction.  He had been running wings and dashing for the rope all day and could be forgiven for being disappointed about not getting to fly. I was really proud of how understanding he was. We’re going to try to get back up on 9 May and make up for lost time.

Engine-Off Approach KDET

I rarely change my Facebook cover photo. That’s mostly because it takes a pretty cool photo to displace the old one. I’ve used a shot out the front window of the TG-7A on approach to Rwy 33 at Detroit City Airport (KDET) with the prop stopped since late last year.  It’s pretty cool. It looks like the cockpit is unoccupied and one could be forgiven for thinking that it’s photoshopped except that the airspeed indicators are alive (and on speed). But I had a cadet late in the day who flew well enough that I could get out the GoPro and shoot some video. I happened to get a pretty impressive-looking sot of myself, so that went up today as the new cover page. Nice lighting, blue sky, canopy reflections, and other elements that make it a pretty cool hero shot. Now all I have to do is fly as well as the picture suggests that I do.

Next weekend, I’m off to tour Fermilab with Deadly, then it’s more glider ops the week after. This is what we do and thins is how we do it.


CAP Glider Ops – A New O-Ride Pilot Debuts

Tupper Feltun Full

Yesterday, I debuted as a cadet orientation pilot for CAP. Yeah, I’ve been a CFI and a rated CAP instructor pilot since last June, but I had only recently gotten around to getting qualified as a cadet orientation pilot.

I’m comfortable in the ASK 21, but less so in the SGS 2-32. Thus, I started out the day with three flights with Maj Chris Felton in the 2-32.  I flew in the back and had the controls for the first two, then we switched and Chris took the controls in the back for the third flight. (It’s a sign that you’re taking operations seriously when you go fly with a friend and the PIC wants the back seat. The front is too easy. There are instruments up there and it’s too easy to see the tow plane.)  I managed to bring the 2-32 to a stop in reusable condition twice, and then rode along on the third one mostly to get the sight pictures while an acknowledged master of the 2-32 flew the ship.

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After a break, I hopped in and flew three cadets. (Studiously avoiding telling the first one that she was my first until after we landed.)

The Schweizer SGS 2-32 is a 1960s-era two-place glider built like a Buick with a large main wheel in the middle, a tiny tailwheel in the back, and a skid under the nose. Although it’s most fun to fly from and to the grass, CAP frequently flies it from and to paved runways. No worries. You just have to replace the metal on the skid more often. (And, if you’re as good as CAP expects you to be as a pilot, the airport has to re-paint the centerline stripes a little more often.)

MIWIG glider operations for cadet O-rides are usually split evenly between the more modern glass ASK 21 (equipped with all wheels and no skid) and the SGS 2-32, so it’s not uncommon for a cadet to show up for a 2-32 ride after having flown in nothing but the ASK 21 for up to four flights.

On my second O-ride, I had a pretty good landing, which usually consists of initial contact by the main wheel, followed by braking and the skid making contact with the runway and the noise attendant thereto for 50-100 feet until the aircraft comes to a halt.

The cadet, who was on Flight 3 after two flights in the ASK 21, was clearly concerned. He turned around and said, “Was that supposed to happen?” We explained that the skid makes that noise and that I had not snapped off a nosewheel on the landing. I’m not sure that we was convinced. We’ll see if he shows up for Flight 4.

The thing about which I’m most pleased is the progression that I’ve managed to get. I acknowledge that I’m a baby CFI. 100 aerotows total with 55.3 hours of dual given (including the TG-7A self-launch time, which is the majority of that dual). I hit the CAP glider ops weekend right after getting my CFI and got a Form 5 as a CAP instructor pilot. But then Capt Mark Grant helped me to use a very gradual slope to increase my role.

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I started out by flying with rated pilots in the front seat. Pilots with airplane ratings but little or no glider time. Later, beginning this season, I flew in the back seat with my son, C/MSgt Nicholas “FOD” Tupper in the front as a student. A few weeks ago, I did a new Form 5 with Mark to add on the orientation pilot endorsement, as well as refreshing my pilot and instructor endorsements.

This progression allowed me to gently add responsibility and workload.  Airplane pilots flail around the sky and don’t know how to use their feet in a glider, but the IP’s role is pretty much to explain this while observing. Yes, you have to take off, fly (and/or save the front-seater’s bacon) on tow, and land the ship.  With FOD, I was a little more involved on tow and following the controls on landing.

On a cadet O-flight, it’s all about you as the orientation pilot.  You’re not going to get any help from the front seat. In fact, the front seat occupant is usually additional work and requires additional skill and bandwidth. You have to lean to one side or the other to see the instruments and/or the tow plane, explain things to the cadet, and be ready for things like the cadet hurling, getting in the way of the controls, or otherwise making your job harder.  In fact, cadets have an uncanny ability to hold their smart phones so that they perfectly block your view of the tow plane. And you’re supposed to do all of this in a way that leaves the cadet excited and looking forward to the next O-ride, as well as going on to the academy and becoming the fighter pilot that saves the free world, Mazer Rackham -style.

It’s a pretty heavy responsibility and I take it seriously.  The good news is that I flew three cadets yesterday and I felt well prepared. I think that each of them will be back for rides 2, 3, and 4 respectively. And that’s what this flying is all about.

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Thanks for Chris Felton for the picture that leads this post.


A SpaceX Rocket is Going to Land at Detroit’s River Days Airshow

April 01 Lead The Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum and SpaceX dropped a bombshell this morning at press conference on the Detroit waterfront. This year’s Tuskegee Airmen Detroit River Days Airshow will feature the recovery of the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket on SpaceX’s drone ship on the Detroit River in front of an audience that could reach more than a million spectators.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said, “There would be no SpaceX if it weren’t for the dreams that power the company and its missions. For many people, that dream starts at an airshow. What better time and place let people have a close look at what those dreams can bring?”  Musk flew to Detroit for the announcement after yesterday’s press events in Hawthorne, California surrounding the beginning of production of Tesla Motors’ Model 3.

Steve Tupper, who is in charge of the airshow, for the museum said, “I don’t think I have to tell you how excited we are about this addition to the show. Over the last four years, we’ve been bringing the show along. In 2014, we had a 500-foot waiver. Last year, we took the waiver all the way down to the surface and added aerobatic performances. We had no idea that 2016 would see a spectacle that has never occurred at any airshow before now.” April 01 Drone Ship SpaceX made headlines in December of 2015 by successfully bringing the booster stage of a Falcon 9 first stage to a soft landing at Kennedy Space Center’s Landing Zone 1. For the airshow event, SpaceX will land another Falcon 9 first stage, this time on SpaceX’s Autonomous Support Drone Ship. Musk says that the drone ship will begin its trek to Detroit in early June.  The ship is expected to arrive the week before the airshow and moor at Port Detroit. April 01 Box Map For the landing, the drone ship will take up a position in front of the River Days festival grounds near the Renaissance Center and near the middle of the Detroit River on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Canadian border. “We’ve had our issues in the past with getting the Falcon 9 first stage to land on the boat, but we think that we have things ironed out and this will be a great opportunity to demonstrate our improved capabilities,” said Musk. April 01 Falcon 9 The landing is expected to take place at 1:05 Detroit time on Friday, June 24 to kick off this year’s installment of the show. To make its date with the Detroit riverfront, the Falcon 9 rocket (called the “full thrust” version) will launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida about 12 minutes before the scheduled landing. After thrusting for nearly four minutes, the main engines will shut down. Seconds later, the first stage will separate and the second stage will fire, propelling a new Civil Air Patrol search-and-rescue satellite into a polar orbit.

The first stage will then orient itself and begin its controlled descent to the waiting drone ship on the river. “It wasn’t easy to make this happen,” says Tupper. “FAA regulations require that we keep performers at least 500 feet away from the crowd, and that includes rockets.” Although it will require additional propellant for both the rocket’s main engine and its directional thrusters, the rocket is expected to approach the drone ship from the southwest and track along the Detroit River over the Ambassador Bridge before touching down on the drone ship.

Federal Aviation Administration Aviation Safety Inspector Art Bangle described the complexities. “The museum has asked the FAA to authorize an operation involving a tube full of highly volatile fluids and gasses very close to maybe a million people in two countries and right in the middle of a navigable waterway.  Ordinarily we would ignore such a request as we would an April Fool’s Day joke. But Steve and the airshow staff are steely-eyed operators who have planned for every contingency. The FAA wouldn’t authorize them to give it a try if the FAA didn’t have full faith in that team.”

Team Tuskegee, the museum’s airshow formation team, is practicing a maneuver in which its four TG-7A motorgliders will circle the rocket stage as it descends below about 1,000 feet above the water and follow it all the way to touchdown.TG-7A over Lake with Harte Tupper says that he is excited this spectacle will have a distinctly Detroit flavor. “There are two major airshows – Thunder over Michigan and the Selfridge ANGB show – that are so close to the team’s home airport here in Detroit that we have to be careful not to bust their airspace when we go places. Despite that, they never include us in their shows. Come to think of it, they hardly ever have anybody from Michigan in their shows. So maybe, until they get their own circle-the-rocket opening, we can be as cool as they are.”

Other performers are expected to include displays of aerobatic, formation, and other flying by pilots and aircraft from southeast Michigan and Windsor, Ontario.  More than 75% of the airshow performers are from the area. Asked about the best opportunities for viewing the event, Tupper said, “Every place along the rail on either side of the river will be the best seat in the house.  Just get there early and be patient as you depart.”

The fireworks displays during the Windsor–Detroit International Freedom Festival draw about a million spectators to the riverfront every year, often causing legendary traffic snarls. Airshow organizers believe that attendance for the SpaceX landing might double that number.

SpaceX images used under Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike.